Athletes in every sport can benefit from strong, powerful shoulders. However, many get stuck in a routine of using barbells or dumbbells to perform the same shoulder exercises, overlooking their most valuable asset—their bodies! Handstand Push-Ups require elite levels of athleticism, making them a choice exercise to include in your regimen.
Handstand Push-Ups build strength in the prime movers (chest, shoulders and triceps), improve balance, and condition the core. Although they are not advised for beginners, they can be modified to suit the needs of less experienced athletes. [See the end of this post for an adaptation that uses less bodyweight and that can be used as a progression tool for Handstand Push-Ups.]
Strength and conditioning coach Ragnar Danneskjold, a former member of the U.S. Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment, says that because you push 100 percent of your bodyweight, “the Handstand Push-Up makes far greater demands on the muscles than standard Push-Ups.” He notes that women can benefit from this exercise, since “developing shoulder strength is not dependent on gender or sheer size.”
Another major benefit involves balance. “The athleticism needed to hold your entire body upside down in perfect balance while performing the Handstand Push-Up is valuable in any sport,” says Danneskjold. Maintaining the upside down position might prove difficult for those who possess the strength necessary for the exercise but lack the balance. Using a wall as a spotter allows you to challenge yourself as much as possible without risking falling over.
Danneskjold observes that “the BOSU, balance boards and exercise balls are popular because of their presumed benefits in core strength development.” However, he thinks they might be insufficient for experienced athletes who already possess well-developed cores. “Core strength developed by performing wall-supported and then free-standing Handstand Push-Ups far exceeds that produced by any current device or sport,” he says.
Increased gains in core strength also provide greater protection against injuries.
Few young athletes have the strength necessary to safely perform a Handstand Push-Up. The exercise requires the ability to push much more weight than most Shoulder Press exercises. But you can build up the strength you need with the Pike Push-Up.
Because your feet don't leave the ground, the Pike Push-Up develops strength in the shoulders without having to push your entire bodyweight. Starting in standard Push-Up position, walk your feet in a few steps, keeping them shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms and legs straight, forming a right angle with your body. Lower toward the ground, keeping your head between your arms, then push back up for one rep. As the Pike Push-Up becomes easier, progress to putting your feet on an elevated bench or stability ball to place more weight on your arms.
The Handstand Push-Up is a fantastic exercise for young athletes looking to build powerful shoulders, but safety should be your top priority. If you’re unsure whether you can do it, start with the Pike Push-Up and progress to the full Handstand Push-Up. Take the extra precaution of placing a pillow under your head when you begin elevated Pike Push-Ups and eventually Handstand Push-Ups. Be smart and you'll build more powerful shoulders over time.
Photo: body-mind-strength.com; ronjones.org; exercise-ball-exercises.com